Saying Goodbye to My Stripper Friend

Tammi True was crass and irreverent, and I will miss her terribly.

Sometimes, you work on a story, and it gets much larger than you ever anticipated. In 2010, I pitched the idea for an article on the re-emerging burlesque scene in Dallas. My editor Tim liked it, and thus I began work on my first feature for D Magazine. I initially requested that the article be 3,000 words long. Tim asked for 2,000 words. I gave him 2,755 words. I had dinner with and interviewed numerous burlesque dancers. (Journalism is amazing!)

I got the phone number for Nancy Myers — who went by the stage name Tammi True. She had done burlesque in the 1960s. She headlined at Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club in Downtown Dallas. I went to her house, and I brought a poinsettia because it was almost Christmas. We talked for several hours. I met her again, a week later, and we talked for another few hours. That was the beginning of our friendship. My stripper friend Nancy. (I think she preferred the term “stripper” because it got a bigger reaction from people.)

The first draft of the article was all over the place. Tim needed to know: is this a story about modern burlesque with Tammi True as an interesting footnote or is this story about Tammi with modern burlesque as the coda, i.e., her legacy lives on. It was decided the story should focus on Nancy/Tammi. Hours worth of research, interviews, and field trips on modern burlesque would go unused (but we’ll always have the Londoner, Angi B. Lovely).

In the end, the story came together. However, I discovered that Nancy — as someone skilled in the art of tease — hadn’t shared everything with me. Among other things, apparently, she had once or twice tried to kill her husband over some disputed child support and a new girlfriend. The short version: The shot missed him, took off part of the girlfriend’s ear, and Nancy avoided jail. This story should have been in the article! There was also the time she was sexually propositioned by Tony Bennett, and a hundred other little anecdotes that slipped her mind while we were talking in her kitchen.

Nancy and I decided to work on her memoir. Over the next three years, we would meet at her house and talk. I’d record everything. I struggled to keep her focused, as one half-finished story would immediately segue into another amusing tale and then another. It was a fact-checking nightmare as every story seemed completely outlandish and nearly impossible to verify. Our book, The Wild and Wayward Tales of Tammi True, is a bit of a hot mess. Much like our conversations — it jumps here and there. The majority of the book is a direct transcription, Nancy’s own words with minimal bits of narration. I didn’t want it to be too polished. I wanted readers to experience what I experienced — the wry, mischievous demeanor, the obscene jokes, the smoking, the gravely Texas accent, and mostly, her charm. That’s the Nancy I knew. I sacrificed a better book for a slightly more honest one. It was like Tuesdays with Morrie, if Morrie was a foul-mouthed stripper. We self published, and the book only had modest sales on Amazon and in the Sixth Floor Museum gift shop. “Modest sales” is writer-speak for I’m fairly sure friends and family bought copies. But I’m proud of what we created.

The article and the book lead to a conversation with Katie Dunn from AMS Pictures, which lead to a movie in 2013, True Tales, about Nancy’s young life in burlesque and her relationship with Jack Ruby. Also, Nancy started performing again on stage — yes, in her 70s. She was also inducted into Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas. She gave a few talks about Jack Ruby at various conventions where people are interested in such things.

Then Nancy retired Tammi True a second time. The travel was wearing her out. We stayed in contact with the occasional phone call to give family updates and discuss life in general. She didn’t want to talk about it much, but I could tell her health was beginning to decline.

Nancy Myers died yesterday morning at the age of 81 from complications due to COPD. I got a phone call from each of her daughters, Dawn and Tracy. The service and burial will be at Turrentine Jackson Morrow Funeral Home in Allen, Texas. (I can neither confirm nor deny that feather boas may be used during the service.) I’ve been asked to speak at the funeral.

What started as an opportunity to write a feature for D Magazine has left me heartbroken today. (Out of context that last sentence is hilarious.) But truthfully and sincerely, I made a friend and then I lost a friend. She was crass and irreverent. She was hilarious. Much of what she said I could not repeat here, including some of the stuff about Tony Bennett. She enjoyed surprising people and entertaining them. She lived a wild life and survived it, in and out of the spotlight and onto whatever comes next.

She will be missed.

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